A Modest Proposal for Compromise on “Confederate” Military Bases

In July 1864, Confederate forces led by General Jubal Early attacked Fort Stevens and Fort DeRussy on the outskirts of Washington, DC. Union forces drove them away after two days of skirmishes, but the battle threw a scare into the capital city and constituted a high point in the Confederacy’s Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

More than a century and a half later, the Confederates are back in Washington, meeting stiff resistance on Capitol Hill but garnering support from the White House.

This June, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sought the removal of portraits and statues honoring Confederate figures from the Capitol and its grounds.

Meanwhile,  the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee approved an amendment to the annual National Defense [sic] Authorization Act, offered by US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The amendment would give the Pentagon three years to re-name military bases named after Confederate figures.

US president Donald Trump says he’ll veto the NDAA if it comes to him with that amendment intact.

Will he? Almost certainly not.

The NDAA is the US government’s largest annual corporate welfare and middle/lower class workfare bill. This year’s version isn’t even at full pre-passage bloat yet and it already tops $740 billion in sweetheart payouts for “defense” contractors, plus salaries and benefits for more than three million jobs in, or related to, the military.

If Social Security is a political “third rail” (touch it and you die), the NDAA is the train that runs down the tracks on either side of that rail (get in its way and you’ll be run over and smooshed).

So no, Trump’s not serious about a veto. He’s just virtue signaling to those members of his southern and rural base who were weaned on pro-Confederate “Lost Cause” mythology (basically every southerner and most midwesterners who came of age before the 1990s). And yes, Pelosi and Warren are virtue signaling to their side of Culture War, 2020 Election Edition, too.

Both sides will drag this fake, silly fight out until after Election Day because it’s the fight itself, not the outcome, that brings in the campaign contributions and the votes. Style over substance, as usual.

But just for laughs, let’s think about what a compromise could look like if the two sides actually worked for the taxpayers instead of for the military industrial complex. How about this:

Don’t rename those “Confederate” bases. Instead, shut them down. Completely. Move or destroy the weapons, move or discharge the troops, and sell the real estate (with contract clauses forbidding use of the bases’ names or namesakes in subsequent uses).

For the sake of balance, shut down an equal number of bases named after Union military figures, on the same terms.

Then cut that NDAA by $100 billion or so, and call it a good start.

No, that’s not going to happen, at least while we keep sending Republicans and Democrats to Washington. They’ll occasionally slap new labels on their wicked and murderous behaviors, and sometimes assign blame to the old labels for those behaviors, but they won’t willingly change.

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My Upcoming Debate with the Harvard Professor Who Wants a “Presumptive Ban” on Homeschooling

When I told my 13-year-old homeschooled daughter that I would be participating in an upcoming debate with the Harvard professor who recommends a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling, she asked incredulously, “Why would anyone want to prevent people from homeschooling?”

I told her that some people worry that children could be abused or neglected by parents who choose to homeschool, which is why in a recent Arizona Law Review article, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet called for a “presumptive ban” on the practice, allowing the state to grant permission to homeschool only after parents first prove that they are worthy of the task and after they also agree to other state interventions, such as regular home visits by government “mandated reporters” of child abuse and ensuring that their children still take at least some classes at their local government school.

My daughter was baffled. I asked her what she thinks my response to the professor should be in the upcoming discussion hosted by the Cato Institute on Monday, June 15th, that will be livestreamed to the public. She said that many of the young people who attend the self-directed learning center for homeschoolers where my daughter and her siblings take classes chose homeschooling to escape abuse in their previous school. Many of them were bullied by peers or otherwise unhappy there, and homeschooling has been a positive game-changer for them. “Maybe the professor doesn’t really know homeschoolers,” my daughter said. “You should explain to her what it’s really like.”

That is what I intend to do. My argument in favor of homeschooling and against “presumptive bans” and regulation hinges on three primary principles:

Principle 1: Today’s Homeschoolers Are Diverse, Engaged, and Competent

As my daughter suggested, opponents of homeschooling or those who believe in greater state authority over the practice may not really know a lot about today’s homeschoolers. Stereotypes of homeschoolers as isolated radicals were rarely true even a generation ago when homeschooling became legally recognized in all US states by the mid-1990s, and they are even less true now.

Twenty-first-century homeschoolers are increasingly reflective of the overall US population, demographically, geographically, ideologically, and socioeconomically. They choose homeschooling for a wide variety of reasons, but a top motivator cited by homeschooling parents in the most recent US Department of Education data on the topic is “concern about the environment of other schools, including safety, drugs, and negative peer pressure.” Only 16 percent of homeschooling parents in this nationally representative sample chose a “desire to provide religious instruction” as their top motivator. Much of the growth in homeschooling over the past decade has come from urban, secular families seeking a different, more custom-fit educational environment for their kids.

Homeschoolers are diverse in many ways, from their reasons for homeschooling, to the educational philosophies they embrace, to the curriculum they use (or don’t use). Homeschooling is also becoming much more racially and ethnically diverse, with federal data showing that one-quarter of the nearly two million US homeschoolers are Hispanic, which mirrors the population of Hispanic children in the overall US K-12 school-age population. Black homeschooling is also growing, with many African American parents choosing this education option for their children to “protect them from institutional racism and stereotyping.”

Additionally, recent research by Daniel Hamlin at the University of Oklahoma finds that homeschoolers are highly engaged in their communities with frequent opportunities to build “cultural capital” through regular visits to libraries, museums, and participation in cultural events. Hamlin states: “Relative to public school students, homeschooled students are between two and three times more likely to visit an art gallery, museum, or historical site; visit a library; or attend an event sponsored by a community, religious, or ethnic group. Homeschooled students are also approximately 1.5 times more likely to visit a zoo, aquarium, or bookstore during the course of a month.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic led to massive school shutdowns this spring, over 50 million US schoolchildren found themselves learning at home. Whether because of ongoing virus fears and concerns about school reopenings with strict social distancing requirements, or because they found learning at home more rewarding than they expected, many parents are seriously considering opting out of conventional schooling—at least in the short-term. A new poll by USA Today/Ipsos found that 60 percent of parents say they will likely choose at-home learning rather than sending their children to school in the fall even if they reopen.

Some of these parents may be glad to know that a recent literature review on homeschooling conducted by Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation finds excellent academic outcomes for homeschooled students. She concludes that “the outcomes of those who homeschool, whether the result of homeschooling itself or other unobservable characteristics of families who homeschool such as greater parental involvement, shows positive academic outcomes for participants.”

The wide variety of reasons for and approaches to homeschooling means that subjecting homeschooling families to the education and oversight requirements of government schools, or requiring homeschoolers to take regular classes at these schools, imposes conformity on a population of families that is deeply heterogeneous. It may seem neat and easy to mandate government schooling regulations and expectations on families who opt out of this method, but it limits individuality, experimentation, and divergence. We may not like how different families choose to live and learn, but that is no excuse to intolerantly impose our own preferences on them through government force.

Principle 2: Parents Know Better Than the State

My husband and I chose homeschooling right from the beginning of our childrearing days, recognizing that it would provide a more expansive, interest-driven, academically challenging educational environment for our four children than would be possible in a conventional school. Instead of going to the same building every day, with the same static handful of teachers and the same age-segregated group of peers doing the same curriculum, our children are immersed in the people, places, and things of our city and, with the exception of this pandemic, spend much of their time outside of our home interacting with friends and mentors in our community. We rejected schooling from the start, but as my daughter suggests, many families use homeschooling as an exit ramp from an unsatisfactory or abusive schooling experience.

Peer abuse in the form of physical and emotional bullying is rampant in schools, and is one reason why some parents choose to withdraw their children from school for homeschooling. Data suggest that nearly half of children in grades four to 12 experience bullying at least once a month, and peer sexual assaults at school are alarmingly common. Depression and anxiety are rising among children and teens, and the youth suicide rate climbed 56 percent between 2007 and 2017. Researchers at Vanderbilt University found a strong seasonal relationship between youth suicide and school attendance, with suicidal acts and tendencies declining during the summer months and soaring at back-to-school time. This is an opposite pattern to adult suicide rates and tendencies, which peak in July and August.

Opponents of homeschooling point to rare examples of abuse or neglect by parents who identify (or who the state identifies) as homeschoolers to argue for heightened homeschool regulation. Yet, government schools are heavily regulated and surveilled, and abuse still regularly occurs there, and not only in the form of bullying.

Headlines abound of educators abusing children on school premises, and a 2004 US Department of Education study found that one in 10 children who attend a government school will be sexually abused by a government school employee by the time the child graduates from high school. Child abuse tragically happens in all types of settings, but some research suggests that homeschooled children are less likely to be abused than their schooled peers. This shouldn’t be surprising, as homeschooling parents are often choosing homeschooling, while making significant personal sacrifices, to ensure their child’s safety and well-being.

Child abuse is horrific and anyone convicted of this crime should be severely punished, but it is absurd to suggest that homeschooling parents need to be frequently monitored and evaluated by government officials who struggle to keep children safe within their own government institutions. Clean up your own house before telling others how to clean theirs.

Parents are not perfect and they do commit crimes, sometimes against their own children, just as educators sometimes commit crimes against the children in their schools. But if we are to grant power to families or to the state to protect children, we should side with families who have shown for millennia, well before governments were instituted, that they are capable of raising and educating their own children.

Principle 3: In America, We Have a Presumption of Innocence

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of proposals to presumptively ban or heavily regulate homeschoolers is the deep suspicion it betrays toward a group that chooses to live and learn differently. The suggestion is that because some tiny fraction of homeschooling parents could commit a crime against children then all homeschooling parents should be subject to increased scrutiny and surveillance. This says that homeschoolers should be presumed to be guilty until proven innocent, with frequent monitoring to ensure no wrongdoing.

We rightfully condemn racial profiling and other attempts to single out an entire group for increased suspicion out of concerns about the actions of a few. We should criticize efforts to monitor and control the beliefs and behaviors of people who live differently, valuing the pluralism of American culture. We must recognize the cost of trading individual liberty for some alleged security. It is a dangerous exchange.

If a parent, educator, or any person is suspected of abusing a child, then that individual should be arrested, charged, and tried. But to single out an entire group for pre-crime surveillance with no evidence of lawbreaking is wrong. Critics might argue that if homeschoolers have nothing to hide, they shouldn’t mind more state intrusion if it could protect children.

By this same logic, we should allow periodic police inspections of our homes to protect our neighborhoods and make sure none of us are thieves. If we have nothing to hide, we should allow the government to routinely read our emails and listen to our phone calls. We should be okay with stop-and-frisk. In a free society, we should not be okay with these violations of privacy that expand state power and make us less free and less safe.

The central question is what kind of society do we wish to live in? Do we want entire groups subject to special scrutiny and suspicion just because they are different? Do we want to accept a legal regime of guilty until proven innocent? Do we want government to serve families, or families to serve government? At the heart of a free society is tolerating difference and accepting diversity—in lifestyles, in beliefs, in values, and in parenting and educational practices.

Government schools have a lot to focus on, including reducing abuse in schools, raising reading scores, and getting more than 15 percent of students to be proficient in US history. Child advocates, educators, and policy makers should help these schoolchildren by making government schooling safer and more effective, while leaving homeschooling families alone.

Click here to register for Monday’s online discussion featuring Elizabeth Bartholet, Milton Gaither, Neal McCluskey, and me.

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Abolish The Police (and Then What?)

The completely rational idea of abolishing the police scares some people.

They think “But who would I call if someone is breaking into my house in the middle of the night?

Chances are, if that’s happening, it’s a wrong-address police raid and you’re about to be killed, and calling more police to the scene isn’t going to help you. I’m sorry if this news upsets you, but you need to face reality eventually.

On the off-chance it’s a freelance thug breaking in, you have better options than calling the police even now.

Take responsibility for your own defense— you ought to be doing this first anyway. Calling someone else should always be a last-ditch response. You are there now; they aren’t. What could happen before someone arrives to save you? Almost anything. You are the first responder, and you always have been. Act like it.

If you still feel the need to call back-up: Call your neighbors. If any of my neighbors called in the middle of the night, I’d respond.

If that doesn’t work for you, there are still options better than inviting the Blue Line Gang to your house and facing the very real possibility they’ll shoot you by “mistake”.

Use Cell411.

Or call a crackhead.

Or, use the money you should be saving by not being “taxed” to fund those badged tax junkies to hire private security– ones who will actually be contractually obligated to protect you, individually … unlike police.

Or think of another option that suits you better.

The thing is, to imagine that abolishing the police would leave you helpless is what the police would like you to believe, but it’s not even close to reality. The “reasons” to not abolish the police are as flimsy as the “reasons” people once used to say it wasn’t possible to abolish chattel slavery. In hindsight, those “reasons” look stupid, dishonest, or evil.

You have options; better options. You can create new options. Police must be off the table to free you to find better solutions.

Abolish the police!

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Defund, Dismantle, and Disavow

Minneapolis is “threatening” to defund its police department? It’s a good first step… if they are serious. I have my doubts.

Abolish the police!

Isn’t it odd how an idea which has been around less than 200 years is now imagined by so many people to be essential for civilization. Especially when that institution is utterly antithetical to civilization and society. This societal cancer (or is it a virus?) is said to have begun in London, England in 1829 and spread from there. It should have been smothered in its crib.

Abolish the police!

But, yes, defund the police. Not only in Minneapolis but everywhere. And then refund the money to the victims of theft (“taxation“) so they can provide for their own security if they so choose.

Abolishing the police would get rid of the police union, too. A valuable bonus. Government employee unions are a lie anyway.

Dismantle the whole institution until not one stone remains stacked on another. And don’t replace it with anything. You have to disavow the whole concept of government police. Otherwise, someone might try to establish a new legislation enforcement gang later.

Abolish the police!

If people want to hire security– and pay for it without the ability to force those who don’t want to chip in to pay anyway– that’s their right. They don’t have the right to hire enforcers and force everyone to pay for them– they never did.

Government-supremacists are terrified of abolishing the police. They are afraid of what would happen next. Sure, some are probably afraid of rampant crime, but I’ll bet more of them are even more afraid of people finding out they never really needed the Blue Line Gang in the first place. Once you figure this out it’s not that far to realize you don’t need politicians, either.

Abolish the police! It will be OK. I promise.

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On Riotous Looting

One of the many foundational reasons for the strong possibility of police brutality is the fact that people have either willingly or under coercion outsourced their own security to a group of people who claim not to have any duty to provide it. In actuality, security is the prerogative of each and every individual, not some legal mafia who are more interested in enforcing their prohibitions over peaceful and nonviolent activities in order to fill their bank accounts. The sooner society realizes this, the sooner it will do something to curtail, among other things, the possibility of riotous looting as a result of police brutality. And that’s today’s two cents.

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Is It Better To Be Public or Private In an Age of Surveillance?

Like it or not, we now live in an age of surveillance.

If the state isn’t actually surveilling you, a corporation or business is gathering data about your location, your browsing history, your interests, your employment, and more. You’re also probably subscribing yourself to a system of (voluntary) surveillance from friends, family, and colleagues via social media.

Whether or not any of this is good for humans on net, it’s clear that there are new risks to deal with in a surveillance-oriented world. There’s the growing risk of social engineering attacks (people pretending to be you to get your stuff or hurt you), scaled-up libel due to “cancel culture,” doxxing, and actual physical attacks.

So, what is the best way to protect yourself and people you love from the consequences of the surveillance state? Beyond personal cybersecurity (that could be its own blog post *series* from a better techie), there are two possible approaches.

The argument for privacy

Being public in the way many folks are can open you and your loved ones to attack. Every time you post something on social media about yourself or your family, you might be opening yourself up to attack via that vector. So just don’t do it.

You can resist the surveillance society is to disappear – relatively speaking. While it may not be possible to get fully off the radar and off the grid, if you ditch your cell phone, run a privacy-friendly OS, use a VPN, delete your social media accounts, and use cash, you can get pretty hard to track.

There are still millions of unknown folks all over the world who live blissfully free of Facebook and its ilk. They don’t have to worry about their digital “permanent record” because they aren’t really known to begin with.

The argument for publicity

On the other hand, if it is impossible for you to go off the grid, being as public as possible – building a brand/reputation, developing a following, and documenting much of your life online – may be your best defense.

Criminals and even states like to work in secret and attack the marginalized. If you have a clean public reputation and supporters who have your back, it will be harder for bad actors to use the outcomes of surveillance to harm you. If you do go down, bad folks can be pretty sure that they will be found out.

If you are in the public eye, attempts on you will certainly increase, but your access to deterrents and protection will also increase.

I don’t know which is the right answer, but I have considered (and lived) both approaches in my own small way. Right now I lean toward privacy – before I leaned toward publicity. But whatever the case, I hope to maintain the freedom to choose either.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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